El Anatsui (b. 1944)
Property from a Prominent Florida Collector
El Anatsui (b. 1944)

Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch)

El Anatsui (b. 1944)
Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch)
found aluminum bottle caps and copper wire
73 ½ x 99 x 4 in. (186.7 x 251.5 x 10.2 cm.)
Executed circa 2005.
Kuaba Gallery, Indianapolis
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2008
Indianapolis Art Center, El Anatsui, September 2008.
Indianapolis, Herron School of Art and Design, El Anatsui, September-October 2010.
Cincinnati Art Museum, El Anatsui, November 2010.

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan

Lot Essay

El Anatsui’s Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch) is a sumptuous example of his world renowned sculptural practice. Using found objects–bottle caps, copper wire, and other bits of discarded material—Anatsui weaves, stitches, and composes grand wall-hanging sculptures. Reminiscent of Medieval tapestry, modern European painting, and, of course, indigenous Ghanaian art and craft, Anatsui’s work joins visual traditions in the service of grander social commentary. Here, the artist works his materials into a sweeping horizontal expanse of rolling curves which turn into sharper pitches at the edges. Evoking topography and natural geographic formations, Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch) deftly blends the artificiality of his materials with the splendor of the natural world–creating a dichotomy between form and content that characterizes his most successful sculptures. An illustrative example of one of the most acclaimed sculptural series of the 21st century, Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch) is an important part of Anatsui’s oeuvre and the pantheon of global contemporary sculpture more broadly.

Monumentally scaled at nearly nine feet in length, the physically imposing Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch) overwhelms the viewer, drawing him or her into its rich latticework of shimmering metals. The predominately copper-toned field is punctuated by reds, black, silvers, and yellows. Intricate patterns begin to emerge from the field, intimating movement and highlighting the work’s connection to tapestry—specifically the kente cloth native to Ghana. The vertical bands on each side—black on the left and red on the right—immediately recall one of the most popular kente cloth patterns. Both a beloved aspect of Ghanaian culture and an oft-exported tourist item, the cloth and its distinctive patterns allude to a modernizing and increasingly global African economy.

For Anatsui, the interplay between material and meaning creates a powerful visual metaphor for Ghana’s social and economic history. Anatsui explains, “[when] I first found the bag of bottle tops, I thought of the objects as links between Africa and Europe. European traders introduced the bottle tops, and alcohol was used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Europeans made rum in the West Indies, took it to Liverpool, and then sent it back to Africa. For me, the bottle caps have a strong reference to the history of Africa” (E. Anatsui quoted in E. Gee, El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa, exh. cat. Museum of African Art, New York, 2011, pp. 33-34) Anatsui’s keen sense of global interconnectedness as it relates to discrete local and collective histories informs much of his practice, tethering it to reality in a manner that eludes many abstract artists. Each formal decision is deeply considered, leading to a finished product that appears, paradoxically, almost improvisational.

This sense of a global collective and interconnectedness is a consistent and driving theme in Anatsui’s practice. “You’ve touched it, and I’ve touched it. There is now a kind of bond between you and me,” Anatsui explains, “and this is an idea which is very much related to religious practice, spiritual practice, in many parts of Africa and, I believe, in many cultures of the world” (E. Anatsui, quoted in L. Leffler James, “Convergence: History, Materials, and the Human Hand–an interview with El Anatsui,” in Art Journal, Vol. 67, No. 2, Summer 2008, p. 49). Indeed, Anatsui’s work draws praise for its deep sense of personal spiritualism and an inclusive, democratic interpretation of cross-cultural traditions. For example, Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch) references modernist painting and Ghanaian traditional craft in equal parts, creating an inherently egalitarian visual language. By collapsing the distinctions surrounding these supposedly disparate disciplines, Anatsui succeeds in authoring his own version of global art history in which dialogue and commonality–rather than academic rigidity–are emphasized and applied.

Born in Ghana in 1945, Anatsui was raised by his uncle, a Presbyterian minister. Attending art school at College of Art, University of Science and Technology, in central Ghana, Anatsui was exposed, almost exclusively, to Western Art. Eventually seeking a deeper connection to his cultural roots, Anatsui took to studying African ideographs while teaching art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Armed with dual knowledge of both Western and African art forms and theories, Anatsui embarked on a sculptural career that combined the two–a mode he continues working in today. After achieving considerable fame in Africa and abroad, Anatsui was selected to represent his nation at the 2007 Venice Biennale, presenting a suite of sculptures that earned him the Golden Lion prize and catapulted him to international art stardom. Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch) represents a relatively early example of his hanging metal sculpture, and relates closely, visually and thematically, to those sculptures shown at the now-classic 2007 Venice Biennale.

Thematically expansive, physically enrapturing, and structurally elaborate, Recycled Dreams manages to convey a wealth of information about west Africa, its changing place in the world, its proud but difficult past and its promising future. A master of subtly and sensitively marrying content to form and material, Anatsui is able to transform a collection of discarded liquor seals and bottle caps into a statement about globalism, modernism, culture and its diffusion into the global aesthetic mainstream, and the aftershocks of colonialism. In Anatsui’s visual world, in which each object and gesture is imbued with great meaning, a single jettisoned piece of foil comes to represent centuries of abuse and colonial mistreatment, while another might suggest a deep sense of growing connectedness and compassion. Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch) contains multitudes of both, making it a highly successful and deeply affecting sculpture–an example of one of the great living sculptors working with clear and driven purpose.

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